Surface-wise, there just isn’t a whole lot that differentiates Emery Reel from many of the other instrumental “post-rock” bands out there. Emery Reel employs the tried and true quiet/loud dynamic, their songs transitioning from quiet, pensive moments to gigantic, violent clashes of sound in the blink of an eye.
Their music is cinematic in scope, easily lending itself to images of travelling through bleak, blasted lands, of wandering beneath black, storm-filled skies. There’s an urgent, doomy tone that colors their music a melancholy shade, though the crescendoes and swells offer brief glimmers of hope and victory against whatever dark forces may be arrayed against us.
And of course, there are the cryptic and foreboding song titles, such as “They Are Cohercing Ideas In The Mind” (taken from the scribblings of a schizophrenic, no less) and “His Hammer Is My Axe.”
Though far from original, Emery Reel does dive into their music with quite a bit of gusto. Their songs are exquisitely crafted, and it’s obvious they poured their heart and soul into each one. But there are times when the formula simply works against them.
After awhile, the giant swells of sound that punctuate nearly every song on the album all start sounding alike, and though there are a few twists along the way, it’s pretty clear just when and where they’re going to break out. The solemn mood that Emery Reel so doggedly pursues also gets a bit suffocating.
“Cam’s March” is aptly titled, driven by a stark, solemn drumbeat and browbeaten guitar melodies. The song plods along, and the band doesn’t do too much to break out of the monotony until the very end, when another impressive wall of sound begins brewing and the drums start crashing. However, it’s nothing the band doesn’t do elsewhere in the album, and to the same effect.
I suppose in more cynical hands, that last sentence could be used to describe the entire album. However, I still find myself listening to the disc quite regularly, and always enjoying it a fair amount. “Why?,” you ask? Part of it is just because I like this particular sound. No matter how many times I hear one of these instrumental bands do it, I always get the same thrill deep down inside when the drums start picking up the pace, the guitars start churning, and the whole song begins its march towards some striking crescendo.
But even beyond that, when I listen more closely to what’s going on between those climactic moments, I hear things that do give Emery Reel’s music some much-needed freshness. Like the underrated My Education, Emery Reel displays the ability to work in dynamics and subtleties that give their music some distinguishing aspects. I just wish they’d use it more often.
“They Are Cohercing Ideas Into The Mind” begins the album on a rather abstract note, with disorienting notes, analog squiggles, and a giant, ebbing wall of noise that seems to grow out of nowhere. Sparse, distant horns can be heard, wheezing away somewhere behind the veils of noise that build up over the song’s course, reminiscent of the instrumental passages on Pale Saints’ “Slow Buildings” album.
“Hence; Therefore, Again” starts off with crunchy drums and a synth bassline, which is then tempered by delicate vibes and sparse guitars. There’s a nice juxtaposition here between hard and soft sounds, and though it doesn’t sound like much, it’s one of the disc’s nicer touches. Of course, real drums come crashing in soon enough, stumbling about like a drunk roommate at 2:00am, and additional layers of guitar slowly trickle in from the song’s periphery only to rise up and overwhelm everything else.
The hypnotic guitars and vibes on “Departure Of Hope” prove quite entrancing, almost such that you don’t notice the transition to the surging guitars and drums that have become Emery Reel’s calling card. However, just when it seems like you’ll need to prepare yourself for another Godspeed-insired onslaught, the band pulls off an unexpected transition.
Opting for a more subtle and haunting route, the band reigns in their instruments, allowing ghostly guitar notes to ring out and slowly surround the listener with their sad, solemn chimings. This sudden shift in tone works incredibly well, and is one of the album’s most memorable and intriguing moments.
The album closes with “Uneasy, The Crossing Guard,” which surges forth with crashing drums and a distorted synth bass a la “Hence, Therefore Again.” Meanwhile, delicate Rhodes and crystalline guitars gently descend upon the harsher rhythms like a soft snowfall. As the song progresses, it grows more refined and stripped down, as if shedding any unnecessary energy until all that remains is a lengthy, surreal passage of gasping horns, field recordings, and gently echoing guitars.
Even though I should find this part monotonous, I don’t. Instead, I find it quite affecting, lulling me into that state of mind that usually leads to staring out the window on bleak and rainy days, scanning grey streets for something though I don’t what, expecting something to arrive though I don’t know when.
On the surface, there’s nothing much to differentiate Emery Reel from the rest of the noisy instrumental camp. It often feels like the band has spent a bit too much time trying to emulate their influences, and I wouldn’t doubt that the purchase of at least one of the band’s effects pedals was prompted by its mention in a Stuart Braithwaite interview.
But I’m not willing to completely write off the band as derivative, not yet anyways. Even though …For and Acted Upon Through Diversions is only their first album, there are plenty of hints that they can move past their influences and develop a more unique sound. Only time and future recordings will tell if they are successful or not.
In the meantime, I’ll probably continue to enjoy this album, not only because of the music that’s on it, but also because of the potential it hints at.